Knowing what you know about the NYT, you probably guessed that #2 is the right answer. But that doesn't mean the text of the editorial reveals the motivation of the NYT editors. It's analogous to a Supreme Court opinion: If the decision was made for what the author believes is the wrong reason — such as political preference — then reasons believed to be proper will be drummed up and belabored.
So I'm reading the text of the editorial with the kind of skepticism I use when reading Supreme Court cases. This is what they are saying, but what are they really doing? First, I note the predominance of Trump's opinion. Trump is right the headline begins, and they got a quote from him:
“I think it’s highly inappropriate that a United States Supreme Court judge gets involved in a political campaign, frankly,” he told The Times. “I couldn’t believe it when I saw it.”Trump is going with reason #1. It's inappropriate for judges. But obviously, he doesn't like what Ginsburg said and wants to defend himself in his usual counterpunch fashion. You attack me, I attack you. Going with the old judicial neutrality idea is good politics, whether he really believes judges are above politics or not.
The Times accuses him of having "hands [that], of course, are far from clean on the matter of judicial independence." (Unclean hands... that are also very small... the editors, of course, refrain from making the obvious joke. They must act lofty.) The editors cite his "lambasting" of Gonzalo Curiel, the judge in the Trump University case. But if a litigant, like Trump, is afraid that the judge in his case is biased, that isn't evidence that he doesn't believe judges should be neutral. The problem with what Trump said about Curiel was not that Trump didn't support judicial independence. Those who support judicial independence shouldn't assume that it exists. We should be vigilant about bias and politics. The problem was that Trump seemed to infer bias from the mere fact of Curiel's Mexican ancestry.
In the case of Justice Ginsburg, Trump isn't inferring bias and politics from what group she belongs to. It's a reaction to her particular statements. It's individual. She openly displayed her political leanings and her desire for political allies on the Court and her intent, going forward, to use those allies to get to a majority that would overrule cases that recognize important constitutional rights — including Heller, the case that says there is an individual right to bear arms.
And here's where it becomes clear that the NYT editorial proceeds upon the second reason I posited above, that Justice Ginsburg's particular political statements are dangerous and damaging to the political cause she and the NYT support. "In this election cycle in particular," it's important to keep voters believing that judges will be impartial and above politics, and here's Ginsburg "call[ing] her own commitment to impartiality into question." The Times tries to pass this off as Ginsburg "choos[ing] to descend toward [Trump's] level," but she's not joining Trump, she's proving him right: Judges are political, and that's a bad thing. Perhaps Curiel didn't deserve the criticism, but Ginsburg does, and it's very irritating to the NYT, it would seem, because the Curiel incident was so effectively used against Trump, and then along comes Ginsburg displaying herself as pleased to be political.